Clericalism is topical currently because of its purported relationship with the sexual abuse crisis affecting the Church. However, in my opinion, this is a great example where faulty concepts of clericalism confuse more than they help. One of the key problems in understanding the problem of clericalism is that it means different things to different people, the vagueness of its definition contributing quite a bit to a misunderstanding of its effects. A good help to understanding the phenomenon is surprisingly Wikipaedia, which describes clericalism as:
...clericalism is often used to denote ecclesiolatry, that is, excessive devotion to the institutional aspects of an organized religion, usually over and against the religion's own beliefs or faith.I think this is a good starting point since it emphasises what is the core poison of clericalism,
ecclesiolatry. The core idea behind ecclesiolatry is the notion that clergy is somehow special and the the rules that apply to the rest Christianity don't really apply to them. From a Christian perspective this is a loser's game.
One of the things which makes an understanding of clericalism difficult is the fact that it assumes different forms. From my perspective I can identity three forms:
1) Venal Clericalism:
This type of clericalism values the Church and its offices for personal advantages that can be gained by doing so. A good example of this is the priest who views his work as a job instead of a vocation, and see's himself as a career man, hoping to climb the ranks and thereby attaining all their associated privileges. The care of the faithful is only of secondary concern.
At is most base, venal clericalism aims at securing a position of worldly status and advantage by virtue of being a priest. The corruption of the Borgia popes, for instance, is a typical example of this type.
The thing is that while this type of clericalism does a lot of damage, it's also the type that's easiest to spot and therefore relatively easy to combat since it is the most obvious.
2) Institutional Clericalism:
This type of clericalism is a more principled type and it's here where we start to get into more spiritually corrupting territory. Here the integrity of the institution--i.e. the Church as occupied by the clergy--is valued above its founding principles. The typical example here is that, is in an effort to avoid scandal, the clergy hides crimes in order to preserve the "reputation" of the Church. i.e. The Church lies in order to appear good. Sinning to appear virtuous is a spiritual oxymoron and you eventually have to pay the price. The problem is that when this stuff is eventually exposed--as it always is-- the Church ends up appearing as a hypocrite, undermining the peoples' faith in the Church as a whole.
Of all the types of clericalism it is this type that played a moderate role in the sexual abuse crisis of the Church. Many of the bishops and senior clerics when made aware of sexual abuse were horrified at the stories of abuse but wanted desperately to preserve the reputation of the church--at the expense of justice to the victims-- and covered the crimes up.
One of things that sin is meant to do is disturb a well formed conscience, but institutional clericalism does is provide a salve for any such disturbances. Doing something wrong? It's OK its for the good of the Church. I imagine that many clergy have lied, suppressed truth, and punished victims in order to "preserve" the reputation of the Church. Sins which help you sleep soundly are very deadly indeed.
3) Spiritual Clericalism.
Here we get into the real spiritual poison and it's the one that seems to have Catholicism in its grip at the moment. Here the clergy abrogate to themselves the notion that they are the true guardians of the faith and no one but them has a monopoly on the truth. Not only do these people, with certainty, know what is right and wrong, but know in advance how God will act in the future. In these individuals, there is no sense or meaningful notion that they could be wrong about something...........the thought never occurs in their head. There are zero pangs of conscience, instead they double down when challenged.
It needs to be understood that this type of clericalism has both its liberal and conservative variants and in my mind has three distinguishing features. Firstly there the lack of fidelity to the Pope: unless the Pope is teaching on their terms.
How this type of clericalism differs from conscience is that conscience knows that it may differ from papal teaching but it does not assume the Pope a heretic. Conscience assumes that there may be some accommodation with the Pope and the person remains in the Church, or no accommodation at all and the person has to leave. It does not assume that the Pope should leave the Church.
And secondly there is a lack of fidelity toward the truth. Facts which are inconvenient are simply ignored.
Thirdly: As for the laity.........who are they?
As I've argued before, there is no restoration of Western Civilisation until a religious revival occurs. My current working hypothesis that the secularization of the West has primarily come about because there is something seriously wrong with religion in the West. This "wrongness" has been present in the Church from at least the mid 19th Century and unless it is corrected Western civilisation is doomed. Clericalism, particularly versions (2) and (3) have contributed significantly to this wrongness and they need to be tackled and purged before things can be made right. I'm not sure that the clergy has the resources in itself to tackle the problem and that's why I'm increasingly convinced that the future of the West may lay with the Christian laity.